Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Should I Push my Med School App Back a Year?

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Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Should I Push my Med School App Back a Year?

Session 85

Is it worth rushing to submit your med school application late in the cycle, or should you wait a year while you strengthen your application? The data says…

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[00:47] Question from Hope

“I am a student at St. Louis University. I am going to finish my BS in three years. I’m graduating in May of 2020. I’m applying this cycle. And I was looking at my plan to make sure that I have all my prereqs to graduate early. 

It’s looking like I might have to take a class, like a little fine arts or something just to finish my degree in the summer after May 2020. So I technically won’t graduate until that summer even if I walk in May. 

I’m wondering how that would affect the medical school admissions process.”


For most medical schools, you technically don’t need a degree. So it should be fine as long as you have the prereqs done for the schools that require prereqs before matriculation.

Obviously, if you’re coming down to the wire, depending on the school and when the school start date is and you’re not going to finish classes until July 8, then you’re going to have to figure something out.

If it looks like you’re on track to finish your prereqs, obviously do well in them and have those ready for medical school. The schools are not looking at whether you graduated yet. Instead, they’re looking at your transcripts and the classes you’ve taken.

They want to make sure you’re on track for finishing the prereqs for the schools that have prereqs. But outside of that, you should be fine.

[02:37] Overlapping Shadowing and Clinical Experience

Hope is also asking whether her shadowing experience can overlap with clinical experience. She has been shadowing a hand and wrist surgeon who has a private practice who lets her work with his patients. He lets her do grip strength tests with his patients and X-rays. And Hope is curious about how to classify this on her medical school application.

“There are some experiences where there is going to be overlap between shadowing and clinical experience.“Click To Tweet

One of the more popular ones that I talk about a lot is a clinical research coordinator. As a clinical research coordinator, you’re doing a lot of interaction with the patients. You’re organizing their schedules and staying in contact with them to make sure they’re still eligible for the trials and everything.

And a lot of times, the clinical research coordinator is also just hanging out in the room, waiting for the doctor, and watching what the doctor is doing with the patients. Then they go to the next appointment or do the next thing for that research and so on. That’s part-clinical experience, part-shadowing experience.

In terms of how to put this on your application, it’s easy to just have two separate things on the application and just guesstimate the hours for each. 

[04:15] Letters of Recommendation from a Community College Professor

Because Hope is graduating a year early, she says she’s having trouble finding people who know her as a person and that fit the requirements for the schools that she’s applying to.

She has been taking some summer classes at a community college to graduate early. And a lot of those professors from the community college know her really well because those are smaller classes during the summer.

However, she’s not sure if the recommendation letter from a community college professor is looked at differently from that of a four-year institution.

Now, I wouldn’t worry about it. There are going to be some medical schools out there that are not going to like a letter of recommendation from a community college. That being said, the substance of the letter is what matters. Go to who knows you the most that also fits the required letters that you need.

'It's the substance of the letter that matters the most.'Click To Tweet

This student also says that some of her professors are foreign and have some sort of language barrier. So she’s a bit worried that the letter may not be as well written as it could be, even if they know her really well. But this is the game that she just has to play. 

[05:47] Applying Late in the Game

As we’re recording this, it’s August 1. It scares me that she’s still working on her applications and gathering letters of recommendation because she shouldn’t be working on this just now.

If you are applying through AMCAS, the MD application, and if you were able to miraculously submit your application today, you likely won’t get verified until the end of August.

There’s also been a weird change this year that I’ve seen. Historically, secondary essays have come out as soon as you submit your application even before you were verified. But it seems like this year, they’re waiting to send the secondary until verification. 

Hopefully, she has pre-written her secondaries in these four or five weeks that she’s getting verified so she can submit them as fast as possible.

But the interview invites are already going out and there are only so many interview invites to go around. When you have rolling admissions, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by being this late in the game. 

“When you're trying to cram it all in late in the cycle because you want to graduate early, you will only be setting yourself up for failure.”Click To Tweet

[07:51] The Biggest Issue with Reapplying

Applying again isn’t an issue. The biggest issue with applying again is cost.

It’s a huge pain in the butt because you need to improve your application from the first time to the second time. So you need to have potentially more hours of shadowing and more hours of clinical experience and more and more and more for extracurriculars.

Grade-wise, if you need to improve your GPA, are you taking more classes? If MCAT is an issue, have you retaken it? Then you also have to rewrite your personal statements, get new letters of recommendation, and all of those things.

“You need to improve your application from one submission to another to show what you've done to overcome.”Click To Tweet

A lot of secondaries will ask if this is not the first time you applied to medical school, and if so, what have you done to fix your application. And if your reason was that your application was perfect the first time but it was just late, well, a lot of schools aren’t going to like that answer. They will question your self-awareness because you probably didn’t reflect on it enough.

[09:27] Is She Ready to Apply?

So my best advice is not to apply this year because our student today has just so much going on. If you can do well on the MCAT while you’re doing all these other things, then great. Because most students will crumble at this point where they’re still trying to gather letters of recommendation.

Nevertheless, this Hope’s primary application is done so she could potentially submit it tomorrow. You don’t technically need letters of recommendation until your application is near complete, as well as your MCAT scores. And so potentially, she could be working on those, getting those in while her MCAT score is being processed (she’s taking the MCAT mid-August) and while her application is being processed. So mid-September is when her application is going to be complete.

Now, let’s look at her numbers…

Hope has a 3.4 GPA. It’s not stellar. Her full-length practice test for the MCAT is 502 which is not a good MCAT score. Expect the real MCAT score to be potentially a couple of points lower. 

Historically, most students don’t find Kaplan to be the most realistic as far as translating their full-length scores to their AAMC score.

Therefore, she needs to take the AAMC test to see where she stands. If it’s right around 500-502, stop. Cancel the payment. Get rescheduled until March or April next year, and apply next year.

“Take your time. Stop trying to force all this down.”Click To Tweet

Hopefully, your stats will help overcome a late application. Because that’s what medical schools are looking to do at that point. They’re looking for the diamonds in the rough. So it’s really just the stellar students that are applying late.

[12:46] Taking a Gap Year May Just Be the Best Option

Texas is super transparent with who gets interviews and who doesn’t. And the numbers off the top of my head is that 90% of students who get interviews apply in May, June, and July. And it’s August 1 now.

So everything is telling me to advise that it’s best for Hope to not apply this year. Take a break and relax. Her dad is actually pushing to apply this year and so it’s just not worth it. It’s not worth the cost and all the stress to apply at this point.

Keep some semblance of classes and stay scholastically involved. Just put off the MCAT for a while and get back into it a little bit later this year so she can set herself up for success later on. Find some other classes that you enjoy taking. Or for financial reasons that you don’t take any more classes, just graduate early.

Take a gap year. Get some clinical experience. Potentially, you can spend your gap year strengthening all of your extracurriculars.

Especially for Texas applicants, this student is very unlikely to get an interview and to be accepted, given her stats. They’re not horrible, but they’re also not amazing. They’re just so-so.

'So-so stats with a late application – it's not a marriage made in heaven.'Click To Tweet


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